Formations of buddhist constitutionalism in South and Southeast Asia

Available in Russian

Available for free

Author: Benjamin Schonthal

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2018-4-57-84

Keywords: antagonistic symbiosis; colonial rule; hierarchy; monarchy; monks; sangha; Theravada; Vinaya


From a subfield focused mainly on secular constitutions in Anglophone and/or European settings, the study of religion and constitutional law has gradually shifted its attention to religiously preferential constitutions in North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. While this shift has produced a rich literature on Islam and constitutional law, it has almost entirely neglected Buddhism. This neglect presents a significant problem for scholars of comparative constitutional law because, as this article contends, some of the most important legal projects in South and Southeast Asia have been projects of Buddhist constitutionalism: attempts to use written constitutions and other basic laws to organize power in ways that protect and preserve Buddhist teachings and institutions, especially the institution of Buddhist monasticism, the sangha. By looking at the premodern roots of Buddhist constitutionalism and examining its distinctive formations in Sri Lanka and Thailand, this article explains how and why this particular form of religious constitutionalism has come to influence politics and law in contemporary South and Southeast Asia. The author briefly shows how the obtained results can contribute to explanation of social, political and legal evolution in other Buddhist countries of the region like Myanmar and Cambodia.

About the author: Benjamin Schonthal – Senior Lecturer in Buddhism/Asian Religions, Religion Programme, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Citation: Schontal B. (2018) Stanovlenie i razvitie buddiyskogo konstitutsionalizma v Yuzhnoy i Yugo-Vostochnoy Azii [Formations of buddhist constitutionalism in South and Southeast Asia]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.27, no.4, pp.57–84. (In Russian).


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